An Arab Lawmaker Speaks His Language, and the Right Loses Its Mind

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Walid Taha at the Knesset, last Wednesday.
Walid Taha at the Knesset, last Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

David Amsalem went crazy: “Two Arabs talking among themselves and having a joke at our expense,” Amsalem said, choking as he pointed at Mansour Abbas, who was managing the vote, and at Walid Taha, who thought it worthy to turn from the Knesset podium to Arab citizens and explain to them in their language the Electricity Law, which is after all for their benefit.

“Shall I bring you baklawa and coffee? Knesset of Israel, what have we come to?” Amsalem asked, turning red in the face.

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To be honest, this outburst didn’t look like one of Amsalem’s regular flare-ups. He seemed in real distress. It was a day when the Knesset passed a law by an Arab party whose members are part and parcel of the government, and he and his friends feel that Jewish superiority has been taken from right under their noses.

When the nation-state law was passed, there were those who drew attention to Clause 4 (a), which determines that “Hebrew is the language of the state.” They said that this law harms the equal status of the Arabic language. But those who drafted the law and those who defended it explained that this was wrong, insisting that Arabic would still maintain a special status. Indeed, there are people among us who do not understand why an Arab MK feels it is appropriate to say a few words from the Knesset podium to Arab citizens – citizens whom that particular law is intended to serve – in their language. Clause 4 plays a big part in that feeling.

For example, Professor Talia Einhorn, a jurist, tweeted, “When Jews can be members of parliament in the neighboring Arab states, and can speak Hebrew there, we will agree to Arab MKs speaking Hebrew in the Knesset.” Forget for a moment the dismal stupidity of her words and pay attention please to the key phrase “we will agree.”

David Amsalem in the Knesset, last Monday.Credit: Noam Moskowitz / Knesset

Naveh Dromi from Channel 14 was also left fuming. “There is no need for me to learn Arabic because Hebrew is the language of the Knesset. The fact that there are those who would like all of us to have to learn Arabic is completely delusional,” she said. Forget for a moment the inarticulate nature of her words and pay attention to the word “need.” Ethnic and racial superiority ooze from her words.

Wednesday’s events in the Knesset and on social networks were a collective temper tantrum. Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “Bennett-Ra’am government today broke new anti-Zionist and anti-democratic records!” If connecting families up to electricity and infrastructure in the 21st century in a state that takes pride in being the spearhead of global technology, a villa in the jungle, in the Middle East is anti-Zionist, then I am not a Zionist. And you know what, then neither is Netanyahu.

After all, less than a year ago when he was courting Ra’am and the Arab vote, he identified with the distress of the residents of unrecognized villages and promised to deal with the issue personally. Netanyahu knew that the evening news broadcast would search the archives and screen the relevant clips from the campaign, but that didn’t bother him. Just as the video “the Arabs are going out to vote in droves” didn’t cause him any discomfort when he invited Abbas to his residence and promised him that only he could recognize the communities in the Negev.

Like the rooster who was sure the sun wouldn’t rise in the morning if he didn’t crow, so the communities were without him. These are the sights and sounds that drive Netanyahu’s supporters mad – proud, independent, Arab legislators. They are members of the government, their voice is heard, and it is heard in their mother tongue. They are not migrants who have to learn the language of the locals, they are the locals. Now there are Arabs in the press, on the radio and on the main television broadcasts – the wheel cannot be turned back.

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